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Chocolate Loaf Layer Cake with Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting

Chocolate Loaf Layer Cake with Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting

There is nothing quite like the look of a big, tall layer cake to symbolize decadent desserts, especially when the cake has been sliced to reveal stacks of cake and ribbons of frosting. There are times when I want a layer cake, but don’t really need something so big. Whether I only want to have enough cake to feed a few, or I simply don’t want to have to wash multiple cake pans, it’s good to have an alternative to a classic layer cake. This layer cake starts out with a rich chocolate loaf cake, which is sliced into three layers before being frosted and stacked back up. It doesn’t quite have the profile of a towering, round layer cake, but it is very elegant as a whole and when sliced for serving.

The chocolate loaf cake is a variation on one of my favorite eggless chocolate cake recipes. It uses cocoa powder, melted chocolate and strongly brewed coffee to give it and intensely chocolaty flavor. It also has a tight crumb and a moist, tender texture. The cake uses a combination of vinegar and baking soda to provide most of its leavening, and uses melted butter instead of relying on softened butter creamed into the batter. This means that it takes only a few minutes to put the batter together before baking.

Loaf cakes tend to take a  couple of hours to cool completely, longer than your typical round cakes because they are quite a bit thicker. Once cooled, the cake is easy to slice and the pieces are sturdy enough that you shouldn’t have to worry about breaking them as you stack them up. If your loaf pan has slanted sides, rather than straight ones, you might need to trim a bit off the top of the cake to ensure that your finished cake has layers that are all the same size.

The frosting uses melted butter, melted chocolate, cocoa powder and buttermilk for flavoring, and as it has a fairly intense flavor on its own, I like to stir in some vanilla and a pinch of salt to give it a more rounded flavor. The frosting is neither fluffy, like a buttercream, nor runny, like a glaze, and it is easy to spread and work with. I put the majority of the frosting on the three layers (two interior, one on top) and only very, very lightly run my offset spatula over the sides to give the cake a clean, polished look.

Chocolate Loaf Layer Cake

Chocolate Loaf Layer Cake with Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
2-oz dark or semisweet chocolate
1 cup strong coffee, cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a lightly-greased 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper (either just the bottom or the bottom and sides).
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt together butter and dark chocolate. Stir until smooth and let cool slightly.
Pour coffee, vanilla, apple cider vinegar and melted chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until batter is smooth and no streaks of flour remain.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

When cake has cooled, slice horizontally into three even layers. Level the top layer with a sharp knife if it is not fairly flat. Place one layer on a cake stand and top with approximately 1/3 of the buttermilk chocolate frosting (recipe below). Spread frosting just to the sides of the layer and place second cake layer on top. Repeat with remaining frosting and final cake layer.
Run a knife or offset spatula lightly over the sides of the finished cake to smooth out any frosting that has leaked out between the layers. Sides of cake should not be frosted, but should still have a clean look to them.

Serves about 10.

Buttermilk Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
5 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

In a small, microwave safe bowl, melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate. Heat in 30-45 second intervals, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth. Cool for about 5 minutes, or until mixture is close to room temperature.
Transfer butter mixture to a larger bowl. Beat in cocoa powder, 2 cups confectioners sugar, buttermilk, vanilla and salt, beating until frosting is smooth and slightly fluffy. Add additional confectioners’ sugar to thicken, if needed. Frosting should be at room temperature before using.

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  • adrienne
    November 19, 2008

    Oh wow, that looks great! What size loaf pan did you use?

  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)
    November 19, 2008

    When someone says “chocolate cake”, this is the cake I think of. And dream of….

  • This looks so mouth watering!! Yum!

  • Pam
    November 20, 2008

    How many days could this be made ahead and still taste fresh? It looks wonderful!

  • Andrea Holloman
    November 20, 2008

    This looks and sound decadent. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing!

    Andrea in NC

  • Katrina
    November 20, 2008

    Looks de-licious! Great idea to have less cake by making a smaller one in a loaf pan.

  • Jenn's Baking Chamber
    November 20, 2008

    YUM, who doesn’t love chocolate cake! I love the idea of three layers so that you get a bit of frosting with every bite! yummmm

  • CookiePie
    November 20, 2008

    Beautiful cake, looks so luscious and decadent! I love layer cakes made in loaf pans – so pretty!

  • FamilyFirst
    November 21, 2008

    This looks absolutely moist and gorgeous! In fact, I just made a steamed choc cake last night but was not too sure about the frosting part, so thanks for this easy frosting recipe. Will try it someday soon.

  • Susan
    November 21, 2008

    I love this idea. It’s the perfect size and the shape makes it easier to split the layers than a round cake would. Thanks for this!

  • Kelly "javagirl"
    November 21, 2008

    What a great idea. Not only is it easier – one pan vs multiple – it also cuts down on the amount. Sometimes you just don’t need a full size layer cake!

  • Hillary
    November 21, 2008

    My boyfriend has an obsession with chocolate cake. I’ll have to try this one on him!

  • Kristen
    November 21, 2008

    Oh my mouth is watering! YUM!

  • Simran
    December 16, 2008

    I only started baking this year, but I have been reading your blog forever. Finally I got to try this chocolate cake recipe and I must say it was the best chocolate cake ever.

    It was also the first cake I baked so makes it even more special. Thanks!

  • Nicole
    December 16, 2008

    Simran – I’m so pleased to hear that you had success with the cake recipe – and since you picked this for your first cake, I must say that I’m quite honored, too!

  • Amy
    March 2, 2009

    I was so disappoited. I had no problem taking out the cake from the pan because I placed a parchment paper on the bottom and the sides of the pan but as I was pulling out the parchment paper from the cake, some of the cake cling on the paper disfiguring the shape of the cake. The cake is dry and tasteless compared to other chocolate recipes I tried. I made the icing but another disappointment. It was so thick i could barely spread it over the cake, tastes very sweet and looks dull without any shine into it.

    A word of advice to others who would like to try this recipe, please do not waste your ingredients.

  • Nicole
    March 2, 2009

    Amy – I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t have success with this cake recipe. It sounds like you probably added too much confectioners’ sugar to the frosting, but I just don’t know what when wrong with the cake! If your cakes regularly stick to parchment paper, you might want to lightly grease it; most are quite nonstick.

  • Amy
    March 2, 2009

    I actually used 1 3/4 cups of confectioners sugar and I buttered the pan and parchemnt paper.

    I would say that the picture looks gorgeous and appetizing but deceiving.

    Thanks for your reply.

  • Nicole
    March 2, 2009

    Amy – Thanks for updating me. Sorry it didn’t work out – I wish I could think of why or troubleshoot it some more! Mine really does come out looking like the picture. I hope you can find another chocolate cake recipe that works out a bit better for you. And, of course, feel free to post a link here if you do!

  • hiyam
    March 17, 2009

    I didn’t bother with icing, simply wanting cake to go with coffee. The cake came out nicely and was quite moist. The only issue was that it took little over one hour to bake, which may have had to do with a difference in ovens. I didn’t want the edges to dry out as it looked like they might so I draped a bit of tin foil over the top for the last ten minutes of baking which worked fine. It keeps well in a tightly sealed container for a week but is great hot with vanilla ice cream.

  • Molly
    July 12, 2009

    That’s quite a harsh review, Amy. I can’t imagine what went wrong. I made this cake today and instead of the frosting here, I used a bittersweet ganache. My German host family went nuts for it! We absolutely demolished it. I’ve made a different chocolate cake just about every week for the last year or so searching for the right one, and this is definitely a candidate! I added a few tablespoons of milk to the batter because it seemed sort of dry (although I didn’t measure my cup of coffee).
    Moist and rich, very chocolatey with just a tiny hint of coffee. I can’t wait to make it again. Would it work just as well doubled and in regular cake pans?

  • Molly
    July 12, 2009

    Oh, p.s. mine took about an hour as well, hiyam, and in a convection oven (which I thought usually reduced baking time?).

  • Irene
    October 27, 2009

    Hi can this be baked in a regular rectangular pan? If so how many minutes will it take to bake this?

  • Mmmmmm
    October 30, 2009

    I made this today….LOVE the frosting. The cake was a bit dry, but that may be because I left it in the oven for about 5 minutes after the timer went off. Ooops. If it had been moist, this would definitely be a keeper recipe.

    I’m wondering if I can adapt most from-scratch cakes to the loaf pan? I love having a smaller cake, and splitting it into layers!

  • Laura
    December 12, 2012

    I came across this recipe the other day and have been desperate to try the icing! I only used the icing recipe (stuck with my favorite chocolate cake), and it was delicious! It was sweet and rich but not overly so, thanks to the buttermilk and unsweetened chocolate. It was a great complement to the cake.

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